Like most other Caribbean islands, independence for Barbados came after a long struggle with the colonial powers. The country achieved independence on November 30th of 1966. The trident on the national flag has a profound meaning in that it is representative of the break from the mother country and the step towards independence. Barbados will celebrate its 46th year of independence in 2012 and as always will host a number of special events in November through to December.
As always, Bridgetown will be lit up with blue and gold lights (Barbadian colours). At night, all sparkles with glistening lights. Parliamentary buildings, Independence Square and Arch, Bridgetown bridge and the roundabouts on the main highways are all decorated. The theme of this year's Independence celebrations is Craftsmen of Our Fate: Inspiring Pride and Unity.
There is a festival of creative arts that runs throughout November and a parade and ceremony at The Garrison (a horseracing venue) and usually a firework display in Bay Street, Bridgetown where the Prime Minister attends.
Notably, Barbados is the most easterly of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean chain of islands The island measures 23km (14 miles) at its widest point, 34km (21 miles) long and a mere area of 430 square km. The topography of Barbados is divided mainly into the Limestone lands and the Scotland District. The Limestone Lands cover most of the island and is divided into 5 sub-regions.
Harrison’s Cave is a massive stream cave system at least 2.3 kilometres long.
The interior temperature is an average 27 degrees Celsius. Its largest cavern, the Great Hall measures 15 metres/ 50 feet high. It is an active cave as it carries water. The stalagmites in the cave are growing by less than the thickness of a piece of paper each year — but that’s very fast in geological terms!
Image Credit: www.harrisonscave.com
The highest point is Mount Hillaby, 1,100ft (336m) above sea level and is located in St Andrew. The island is largely surrounded by coral reefs extending in some places 3 metres seaward which results in the fine, white sand that makes up their beaches.
Amerindian settlement of Barbados dates to about the 4th to 7th century AD, by a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid. In the 13th century, the Kalinago arrived from South America.
The Spanish and Portuguese briefly claimed Barbados from the late 16th to the 17th centuries, and may have seized the Arawaks on Barbados and used them as slave labour. Other Arawaks are believed to have fled to neighbouring islands. Apart from possibly displacing the Caribs, the Spanish and Portuguese left little impact and left the island uninhabited. Some Arawaks migrated from Guyana in the 1800s and continue to live in Barbados
From the arrival of the first English settlers in 1627–1628 until independence in 1966, Barbados was under uninterrupted British governance (and was the only Caribbean island that did not change hands during the colonial period).
In the very early years, the majority of the population was white and male, with African slaves providing little of the workforce. Cultivation of tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo was handled primarily by European indentured labour until the start of the sugar cane industry in the 1640s. As Barbados' economy grew, Barbados developed a large measure of local autonomy through its founding as a proprietary colony. Its House of Assembly began meeting in 1639.
The 1780 hurricane killed over 4,000 people. In addition, a cholera epidemic killed over 20,000 people in 1854. At emancipation in the late 1830s, the size of the slave population was approximately 83,000. Between 1946 and 1980, Barbados' rate of population growth was diminished by one-third because of emigration to Britain.
Population and Ethnicity
The population is approximately 285,000 and growing. In terms of race, the population is predominantly blacks of African ancestry.
The largest communities outside the Afro-Caribbean community are:
- The Indo-Guyanese
- Euro-Bajans – originating from England, Ireland and Scotland.
- Chinese-Bajans – are a small portion of Barbados' Asian demographics
- Lebanese and Syrians form the Arab community on the island, and the Muslim minority among them make up a small percentage of the Muslim population.
- Jewish people arrived in Barbados just after the first settlers in 1627.
- The Muslim-Indian Barbadian community is largely of Gujarati ancestry.
Government and Politics
Barbados is a member of the British Commonwealth; its gubernatorial structure largely reflects this fact. The government consist of a senate, a judiciary and a House of Representatives with a Cabinet consisting of 30 ministers headed by an elected Prime Minister. The Cabinet is formed by the political party which gains a simple majority in the general elections. These elections are held five years in between.
Barbados has been an independent country since 30 November 1966. It functions as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, modelled on the British Westminster system, with Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, as head of state, represented locally by the Governor-General, Elliott Belgrave, and the Prime Minister as the head of the government. The number of representatives within the House of Assembly has gradually increased from 24 at independence to its present composition of 30 seats.
During the 1990s, at the suggestion of Trinidad and Tobago's Patrick Manning, Barbados attempted a political union with Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. The project stalled after the then Prime Minister of Barbados Lloyd Erskine Sandiford became ill and his party (the Democratic Labour Party) lost the next general election. Barbados continues to share close ties with Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, claiming the highest number of Guyanese immigrants after the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Barbados functions as a two-party system, the two dominant parties being the ruling Democratic Labour Party and the opposition, Barbados Labour Party. Until 2003, each party had served two terms in office alternately. The election of 2003 gave the BLP a third term victory, at which time the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) achieved being in government for 14 years, (1994 until the 2008 elections). Under that administration, the former Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Owen S. Arthur acted as the Regional Leader of the CSM (Caribbean Single Market).
The Honourable David Thompson, who was elected Prime Minister of Barbados in 2008, died of pancreatic cancer on 23 October 2010. He was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Historically, the economy of Barbados had been dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities, but in the late 1970s and early 1980s it has diversified into the manufacturing and tourism sectors.
Offshore finance and information services have become important foreign exchange earners, and there is a healthy light manufacturing sector. Since the 1990s the Barbados Government has been seen as business-friendly and economically sound. The island has seen a construction boom, with the development and redevelopment of hotels, office complexes, and homes.
Recent government administrations have continued efforts to reduce unemployment, encourage foreign direct investment, and privatise remaining state-owned enterprises.
Traditional trading partners include Canada, the Caribbean Community (especially Trinidad and Tobago), the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Barbados government pays the cost of education of Barbadian students at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, this includes provision of textbooks. This strong emphasis on education has resulted in a literacy rate estimated at about 98% – one of the highest not only in the Caribbean, but in the world.
Barbados is home to the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, the premier university in the Caribbean for legal and other studies.
As the official Barbados language, English is used in formal settings and written communications. In informal settings you are likely to hear Bajan dialect spoken. This Barbados language is a combination of British English and various West African Creole languages.
There are over 100 religious groups in Barbados with multiple variations. Christian denominations include Anglican, Mormon and Apostolic as well as Muslims.
Most Barbadians of African and European descent are Christians (95%), chiefly Anglicans (40%). Other Christian denominations with significant followings in Barbados are the Catholic Church, Pentecostals (Evangelicals) Jehovah's Witnesses, Seven-Day Adventist and Spiritual Baptists. The Church of England was the official state religion until its legal disenfranchisement by the Parliament of Barbados following independence. Religious minorities include Hindus, Muslims, the Baha'i Faith and Jews.
Barbados cuisine is characterized as Caribbean cuisine with influences borrowed from the international cuisine. Barbados national dish is coo-coo and flying fish. Coo-coo is a Barbados recipe which derives from African cuisine and it comes in a variety of types such as green banana coo-coo, breadfruit coo-coo. Coo-coo is normally served along with okra and fried flying fish.
Barbadian cuisine also offers a large variety of meats such as rabbit, duck, ham, pork, chicken, lamb, beef, turkey and veal; meat is served fried, curried, pickled, grilled, roasted and baked.
Barbadians like spicy meals and they have numerous spicy sauces used for flavouring the dishes; their special sauce is called “hot sauce”. East Indian elements are obvious in Barbadian cuisine by the numerous dishes which include roasted ingredients such as roasted fish, roasted chicken, roasted beef served generally with potatoes.
Some of the traditional dishes include souse, pudding and souse, rice and peas, macaroni pie, yam pie, sweet potato pie, scalloped potatoes, garlic baked potatoes, rice and spinach, pelau, chow mein, mashed potato, and pepper pot.
Culture, Music and Festival
The largest carnival-like cultural event which takes place on the island is the Crop Over Festival. As in many other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Crop Over is an important event for many people on the island, as well as the thousands of tourists that flock to the island to participate in the annual events.
The festival includes musical competitions and other traditional activities, and features the majority of the island's home-grown calypso and soca music for the year. The male and female Barbadian who harvested the most sugarcane, are crowned as the King and Queen of the crop. It gets under way from the beginning of July, and ends with the costumed parade on Kadooment Day, held on the first Monday of August.
As Barbados prepares to celebrate 46 years of Independence this month, Barbadians are being urged to pause and reflect on who they really are as a people. As Barbados look forward to this month’s celebrations, just four years before their golden jubilee, let us all recall the mantra, Craftsmen of Our Fate: Inspiring Pride and Unity.